Tennessee offensive lineman Blake Bars [6'5", 275 lbs, 4 Star] is on his way up to Ann Arbor for his visit that will take place tomorrow [Saturday the 18th]. Bars' name hasn't been thrown around as much as some of the other prospects Michigan is after, but that doesn't mean he's wanted any less. Blake told me about his recruitment and what lead to a slow start in his process. Here's a look at his film then the answers.
TOM: The fans aren't as familiar with you as they are for some of the other prospects. It seems like your name has shot to the top very quickly though, is there any reason for that?
BLAKE: Yeah, we didn't get any of our game film until late in February. Our coach just didn't give them to us until after the season in fear that we would focus too much on recruiting and not the program. We got it in late February and put together a highlight film, sent them out the schools and got really positive feedback. That's why it took so long.
TOM: That makes sense. Since you got somewhat of a late start, at least compared to the rest of the crop, where are you at in the process? Do you have a top group yet?
BLAKE: My top schools are probably Penn State, Florida, Vanderbilt, LSU, and Michigan. There are some other schools I would maybe want to consider, but that's my top group right now. We're focusing on visiting the top schools right now, and we really wanted to visit Michigan. We're headed down there right now.
TOM: Ok, and to talk more specifically about Michigan how familiar are you with the program?
BLAKE: We lived in Trenton [Michigan] for around 12 years. I went to a Lloyd Carr camp in Wyandotte once, but I can't really tell you much more than that, I was pretty young. We did go up to Michigan last year and took a brief visit. We have relatives in Ann Arbor and we wanted to look around the stadium. We're excited to go back up and meet the coaches and go on a tour.
TOM: Does Michigan have any advantage with all this since you have family there and you've lived there before?
BLAKE: I think my Aunt who lives in Ann Arbor is a pretty good recruiter. She always says that if I come to Michigan she'll have special things for me. She'll bake me cookies and cook for me. I like the fact that my family is there, and my mom's uncle actually played for Michigan, but I'm not sure how much it will factor in.
TOM: What coach from Michigan are you mainly in contact with?
BLAKE: Coach Smith is recruiting our area. He came out to watch me practice and he said he was pretty impressed. The offer came after that. He's a great guy and I'm excited to meet him. When I talked to him on the phone we got to talk to Coach Hoke which was pretty cool.
TOM: With this visit what are you looking to get out of it? Are there any specific questions you want answered?
BLAKE: Right now I'm just keeping an open mind about each school. When we see it tomorrow I don't know that I have a specific questions other than just hearing what the coaches have to say. I want to find out about the academic side of everything. I think I'm looking for a school that's well balanced, good academics and good athletics as well.
TOM: You said you want to visit your top schools, so how do you think this whole process is going to play out for you?
BLAKE: I think I'm looking to get everything done sooner than later. I want to make a decision before our season starts. We have a really good team this year and we have a good shot at states. Getting that decision out of the way will help that. We have the top five right now and we'll try to get it down from there.
So the coaching change.
This off-season has had two main points of contention.
- Whether or not Denard can still Denard people under center and in the pocket
- Whether Mattison will turn our ramshackle defense of 2010 into a warrior manbear.
I tend to focus on the defense [insert joke of how watching tape time and again of last year's defense is akin to watching a sport about kicking puppies] and in that regard I feel that it was folly to look at our defense last year as a whole, mostly because we were so small. So I look at tackling technique.
That is an incredibly depressing starting point. Can it improve? Has it already? Let's head down to the spring game from this year, with the same equations as before:
Tackling Efficiency = (Made tackles – Missed Tackles) / (Bad Form Tackles + 1)
- Bad form tackles account for terrible form (bad angles, too high, getting shook etc)
Tackling % = Made tackles / Made + Missed
And Hope. We tackled. Well at times even. Against a prolific offense (I will assume a 75% production level from last year which still makes it a prolific offense).
Now to the comparison. Included are season averages for any returning players I had reliable numbers on.
Spring Game in Blue and 2010 Season in Red
- This is one small data set to derive from. Our offense was still learning the system and we probably had not instituted a lot of coverage packages or blitz packages
- That being said, you can easily see improvement in technique and ability. We came in in good form, and more often than not made the tackle.
- If Jake Ryan can produce at that level against our 1s, he should start over Cam Gordon. That kid was absolutely everywhere. My best takeaway message from this was that sending him off the edge on a blitz was a matchup problem if he was being blocked by a [Ed-M: 3rd string] TE or even a T. He was good in coverage, and filled holes on the run. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was by his play.
- I don’t think Kovacs had a very good day. I can’t say at this point that I would rather have Marvin Robinson start, but based on the fact that he provided minimal run support here and little coverage support last year, I think his athleticism, or lack thereof, might be a net negative if he's in a starting role. However tackling hasn't been a problem for him before, so a platoon role with Robinson inside the M 30 might make use of his strengths without exposing his weaknesses so much, provided that...
- Marvin Robinson is a good football player. He might have made a bad read on that long TD, but he was there in coverage and made some nice plays on run support. I would like to see him spell Kovacs in lesser games to build confidence and play reading ability.
- I am REALLY excited about Richard Ash. Had good hands and solid footwork coming off the edge and held up against single teams.
- Marell Evans is a solid option. I'm interested to see how the fall competition between him and Demens plays out. I also don’t know who our starting LBs will be, as Ryan, Jones, Gordon, Demens, and Evans all have upside... finally some depth.
- Will Campbell was Will Campbell. Made some good plays, and just didn’t get moved some plays. I feel like he still loses aggression every so often, but if he finds out how to turn it on every play he can be a manbeast.
- Carvin Johnson is [metaphorically a male horse used for breeding]. Enough said.
- I did not notice Mike Martin too often, which is good and bad. Jibreel Black might be the player I'm most excited to watch develop this year. He is going to be a MONSTER.
- Finally, Courtney Avery will be a starter come September. Good coverage, good run support. Also, I liked Greg Brown.
[Ed.: part of what promises to be a series orienting people unfamiliar with lacrosse to the sport.]
Courtesy of Insidelacrosse.com.
(We now have the best helmets in three sports. Also: Maize uniform rage spreads to two sports)
I’ve started this diary to help introduce Michigan fans to lacrosse and to explain what’s going on both on the field and off as best I can. Since there are no games to recap and I don’t have any video of this past season to break down, I figured it was best to begin with an investigation of Michigan’s roster and how much overhaul and time would be needed before the team became competitive.
There has been a lot of chatter in the message boards and perhaps some diary entries for the past year speculating how Michigan’s 3x MCLA National Champion lacrosse team would fair at the varsity level. Some have argued that Michigan will need a minimal level of roster overhaul or change in recruiting strategies in order to be competitive both within their conference and nationally, particularly in light of the fact that Brother Rice High School won the Inside Lacrosse High School National Championship in 2008, and that the general University student body is already heavily composed of kids from the East coast.
I’ve broken this introduction into four parts:
- Part I of this Introduction to Recruiting will compare and contrast lacrosse recruiting to other sports.
- Part II will attempt to compare how Michigan’s roster compares to the dominant programs in Division 1, in order to see what recruiting changes are necessary to compete for a national title
- Part III will compare Michigan’s roster to its conference foes in the ECAC to see how long it will be before they compete for conference championships and NCAA bids
- Part IV will look at two other new Division 1 programs to see if their experience gives us any indication into how long it will take for Michigan to become nationally competitive.
An Introduction to Lacrosse Recruiting
In terms of what coaches are looking for, it’s pretty straightforward. First, college coaches are looking for a player that has the proper size and speed. If you are a defensemen at a top level program, you are probably going to be around 6’2”-6’3” and roughly 220 lbs, a top level midfielder is 6’0”-6’1” and around 190 lbs, and attack can vary anywhere from 5’10” 190 lbs to 6’2” 215 lbs. In terms of speed, you are looking for players that run in the 4.5-4.6 range in the 40. Max Seibald, former Cornell midfielder and 2010 Tewaaraton Trophy winner (lacrosse’s version of the Heisman or Hobey Baker) recently clocked the same time in the 40 yard dash as Percy Harvin (sub 4.4), so lacrosse is increasingly bringing in top-level athletes (not just guys too slow or uncoordinated for football, etc).
The last element that factors into the scholarship equation is stick skills. Coaches vary widely in how interested they are in a players stick skills. Some coaches love to take athletic guys that were great at multiple sports and true athletes—particularly Dom Starsia at Virginia and John Desko at Syracuse—and trust their own ability to teach stick skills. Other coaches want “lacrosse players” that have the stick skills to immediately contribute the moment they set foot on campus. These players won’t be ranked in the Inside Lacrosse Young Guns list (Top 100 high school players in a graduating class, their version of Rivals 250, etc), but coaches hope they will turn into something special as upper classmen. Normally, only the most successful programs have the luxury of taking a risk on this type of player since they know they have 5-6 instant contributors already in their recruiting class.
Lacrosse recruiting is also in a state of flux right now—for years it operated under the radar due to minimal participation in the sport and neglect from television and print media. As the sport has grown in the past 15 years, and as ESPN and CBS have steadily increased the number of games on television, more people are starting to chart and follow high school players and their recruitment. Overall, lacrosse recruiting is a hybrid to what we are familiar with from football, basketball and hockey.
Similarities to Football
At its core, lacrosse recruiting is still most similar to football recruiting. To begin with, what matters most is your performance with your high school team. How you perform on tape or in person during your high school season is still the single most important element in getting recruited—college coaches want to see you how you play in settled offense, settled defense, transition, special teams, when a defense is focused on one player, etc. The only time you really see teams scheme is during the high school season, so it’s the most realistic chance for college coaches to see how players will translate to the college level.
It is also similar to football in the importance that the camps most major schools host during the summer play in recruiting. Colleges host team and individual camps, and like football, they provide the opportunity for coaches to get a player on campus and to see how they play in person. It’s a chance for the college to get an accurate height and weight, to see how fast the player is both with and without the ball, and to meet the player in order to get a feel for how they will fit into your locker room. As well, there is an Under Armor All America lacrosse game (one for juniors and one for seniors), and the team is selected through a series of combines like the UA or Army All America games in football.
Finally, lacrosse is similar to football in the sense that location matters a great deal. Just like Florida, Texas, California and Ohio/Pennsylvania are the four major hotbeds in terms of producing high-level football talent, the same is true for Baltimore/Washington DC, Long Island, and Upstate New York (you can also start making a very strong argument for including New Jersey and Philadelphia on the list). Like football, you can find talent in other places, but it is impossible to match the density of top quality athletes and high-level coaching of these areas. The players coming out of these 3-4 areas grew up with a stick in their hand, went to high schools where the most athletic kids in the school played lacrosse, and had coaches that treated them like low-level college players from the time they were 14 years old. If you want players who will contribute immediately and a team that will compete for national titles, conventional wisdom says you have to recruit heavily out of these areas (Part II will examine whether this is myth or reality). Players from outside the hotbed areas tend to be recruited as the proverbial “athletes” since they do not have the stick skills to immediately contribute or a natural position on the field.
Similarities to Basketball
Now that you feel like lacrosse recruiting is incredibly familiar and easy to grasp, let’s complicate it by adding elements of basketball. If you follow basketball recruiting, there are two similarities between lacrosse and basketball.
First, club teams and programs are a big deal in lacrosse recruiting. While this seems like a contradiction to primacy of high school tape in recruiting I wrote above, club teams are essential in getting your name on a coach’s watch list. Most college teams have little to no budget to travel during the season, let alone does a team that has 1 head coach, 2 assistants and 1-2 graduate assistants have the man power to travel during the season. Consequently, if a coach is going to see you live, it’s going to be in the summer or fall when you’re playing for a club team. If you want to be noticed by a coach, particularly if you are not from one of those lacrosse hotbed areas (or you are in a hotbed, but on a high school team so stacked that you won’t see the field until your senior year), your club team and the tournaments they qualify matter. Once they know your name after seeing you in a summer tournament, then they’ll start watching your high school tape Playing for major club programs like the Blue Crabs (out of Baltimore) or the Long Island Express is often the first step towards a D1 offer. Club teams are so important that Inside Lacrosse Magazine now ranks the top club programs in the nation at the end of every summer.
The second similarity to basketball is the recruiting timeline for a top player and the top programs. If you are a Top 100 Young Gun, you will probably start collecting scholarship offers during your sophomore year and will commit sometime before the start of your junior season. Johns Hopkins, one of the top programs historically, just received its third commitment for the Class of 2013. Obviously the majority of players still commit around their senior year and the majority of teams do not fill up their classes early, but if you want to land a Top 25 player odds are you will need to lock in a commit 2-3 years before he sets foot on campus. I hate this aspect of the game and think it has the potential to lead to very dirty tactics if the sports exposure and TV money continue to grow, but that’s where the game is right now.
Similarities to Ice Hockey
Now time to really complicate the issue. Lacrosse is a suburban sport, so the top players tend to come from school districts and families that are more affluent on average than a typical BCS-level football or basketball recruit. It’s a sport that requires a lot of equipment and travel, so like hockey it tends to attract more affluent families. This means players in this sport have options that a lot of top level football and basketball recruits do not. On top of that, the sport is still small so that if you want to play on a top high school team, you only have a few options. This means that you could be a stud attackman at Garden City high school on Long Island and be talented enough to be ranked in the Top 100 nationally for your high school class, but you could never see the field until your junior or senior year because there are 3 other attackman in the Top 100 in the class above you on your team. Coaches won’t see you and recruitniks will forget about you.
So what’s a player to do—they are outstanding, but can’t get the playing time to warrant a scholarship offer from a D1 school. What many players will choose to do is to go to a boarding school for a year or two. Some players will do a post-graduate year after graduating from high school, some will repeat their junior year and stay at boarding school for two years, and some will repeat freshmen year and stay at the boarding school for four years. So, like ice hockey, you may gain a commitment from a kid that appears to be a year too old for their recruiting class. Sometimes a team will also ask a player to take a PG year, either to grow or because they will have more room in the following year’s recruiting class.
This route has proven to be a great way for kids to get more exposure and for school to find the “diamond in the rough” in their recruiting classes. Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Salisbury School in Connecticut are national powers at the high school level in large part because of the contributions of PG players, and 2011 Tewaaraton Finalist Rob Pannell and 2011 All-American Billy Bitter are both products of a PG year.
I hope this helps illuminate the process of lacrosse recruiting for everyone. I know this post does not have a lot to do with Michigan specifically, but I wanted to make sure we are all on the same page with how the recruiting process works with lacrosse. It’s obviously going to take Michigan some time to fill their roster with high level talent, considering they are already missing out on some key rising juniors who have committed already.
There probably isn't a more anticipated position group for the Michigan coaches to get on campus than the 2011 offensive line commitments. With only three signed in the class they need all the depth they can get. When Illinois lineman Chris Bryant announced his commitment to Michigan it was a sigh of relief for the fans and coaches alike. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound guard waited all the way until January 28th to announce that decision and chose Michigan over the likes of Arizona, Illinois, Pittsburgh, and Stanford.
Now that Chris is only a week away from making the trek to Ann Arbor to start his new journey he says it's all starting to become real. "It hasn't really hit me yet, I don't think it will really hit me until I get down there," he said. "We're moving in on the 25th, I'm not going to be there this weekend [the 17th] with Jordan because I want to spend time with my family. The whole process is something you dream about and it doesn't even seem real yet." While everything is sinking in, Bryant has already started to think about what he's most excited for once he gets to campus. "I think seeing my name in the locker room, and having it be official. Putting on that winged helmet and just being a part of all that tradition is just exciting," said Bryant.
Often times offensive linemen can have one of the more difficult transitions from high school to college. Their training both on the field and off the field can be drastically different, which is why Bryant is trying to follow everything by the books. "It's a big jump from high school and a lot of work, but I'm trying to do the workout book they sent me," he said. "They want me up there at 335 pounds and I'm at 340 right now. The conditioning was the toughest part but that's preparing for the next level."
Preparing his body is only one part of the process for Chris, and he also understands that he will have a huge adjustment to make in his academic and social life. "I'm going to try to balance my time with all the things being around my class, the weight room, in everything I do balance will play a big part in that," he said.
As Bryant gets closer to joining the Wolverine family he's had plenty of time to reflect on his journey. The recruiting process was long and sometimes tiresome for Bryant which is why he's passed on some of his knowledge to teammate Jordan Diamond. "I waited everything out and took my time, which was good and bad. It got to be really long for me," Bryant said. "It's Jordan's decision and he has a lot of offers from great football schools and great academic schools, but I tell him Michigan has both. He grew up a Michigan fan, so that makes it a little easier, but he'll make the right choice."
Bryant may not be nudging Diamond to join him in Ann Arbor, but the sheer fact that he'll be there makes it a little more comfortable for Jordan without saying anything. Having close friends and family close by makes it easier for anyone to adjust, and that holds true for Bryant as well. "When I went up there for the spring game that's when a lot of kids in my class went up and we all just bonded. We are really close, and there's not one person that I bonded with more than another. It's just a big family there and that's what's special about it," he said. Chris will be rooming with fellow 2011 signee TE Chris Barnett once he gets to Ann Arbor, and said that he's ready for everything in front of him.
Taft WR Dwayne Stanford has been at the top of the conversation when it comes to wide receiver prospects. It doesn't hurt that his teammate, DE Adolphus Washington, is a top recruit also being courted by Michigan. Stanford and Washington had previously been unable to make their visit to Michigan and Stanford finally rescheduled his trip for this weekend. Here's what he had to say about the upcoming visit and where he's at.
TOM: You and Adolphus are making your way up to Michigan this weekend?
DWAYNE: No, Adolphus can't make it this weekend but I am going. He's going to Kentucky on Friday and I'm going to Michigan on Saturday.
TOM: Don't you guys usually travel together? Is this the first visit you'll take without him?
DWAYNE: I visited Tennessee during a football game and he didn't go, but other than that yeah we've been together. This will really be one of the first unofficial visits not to a game that I've taken besides camps or anything.
TOM: With this visit what are you looking to learn from Michigan? Do you have any questions you want answered, or coaches you want to meet?
DWAYNE: I just want to go up there and talk to some of the players and the coaches. I want to find out exactly how they want to use me. I'm really just going up there with open eyes. I'd like to get to know the wide receivers coach better. I had misplaced his number so I have some questions for him about how they'll use me. I basically want to put a name to the face and develop that relationship.
TOM: I know I spoke with you briefly when the Ohio State allegations came out. What were you and your family thinking when it happened?
DWAYNE: We were all in shock. I didn't think that Coach Tressel would resign or get fired, I thought he would stick it out. Fickell is the head coach now and he'll do what he can to win them a Big Ten Championship and if the NCAA lets them, go to a bowl game. Ohio State is bigger than one coach, the tradition they have. At first it did hurt their chances with me, but I talked to the wide receivers coach and he's brought everything up for me. I don't want to say they're at the top but they're up there.
TOM: What about Michigan, where do they stand right now?
DWAYNE: Michigan, they're not at the very top either but they're up there on my list because of how persistent they've been to get me up there. They have a great tradition, won championships, won Big Ten titles. They're in a rebuilding stage which is even better because I could help Michigan get back on top. They've been at the top parts of my list for awhile now.
TOM: I know you go to some of the same camps as Michigan commits, and they have some Ohio kids. Do you ever talk to any of them?
DWAYNE: Yeah, I was at a 7 on 7 with Joe Bolden and he was trying to recruit me. I've been talking to the quarterback Shane Morris, too, I've been talking to him a lot. He's going to be up there this weekend I think, and he was saying we need to show the coaches the future and all that. I'm also good friends with AJ Williams, too. He's always in my ear.
TOM: What's next? I know you've said you want to wait to make your decision, is the timeline still the same?
DWAYNE: I'll have my official top five out in September. My top eight right now is Michigan, Ohio State, LSU, Alabama, Miami, Florida State, North Carolina, and Tennessee. I'm going to go out to Tennessee, North Carolina, and obviously Michigan this summer. As far as a timeline it'll probably be towards the end of the season. It's really whenever I feel comfortable with the school and with my parents. I'm just projecting that it will be at the end of the school year.
Defense was a huge priority for Brady Hoke the second he stepped on the recruiting trail for Michigan. That was made apparent when four of his first six commitments for the 2011 class were defensive players. Cincinnati linebacker Antonio Poole was one of those commitments despite not receiving an offer from the previous Michigan coaches. Poole was a name that frequently came up throughout the recruiting process and that fans were happy to see on the Wolverine commitment list.
As the days get closer for Antonio to step on campus and make an impact, he still has one more big game to prepare for. Along with Michigan signees LB Frank Clark and DE Keith Heitzman, Poole was selected to play in the annual Big 33 game that puts the best high school players from Ohio against the best that Pennsylvania has to offer. "You have to be nominated by someone like a coach, and then they choose the best players from the nominations," said Poole.
The game is his main focus right now, but it has given him a chance to connect with his future teammates Clark and Heitzman. "We've been focused on the game and trying to win, but we have been talking about Michigan too," he said. "Frank is actually playing defensive end, linebacker, and some safety; he's really athletic. Keith has been doing pretty good, too, they're both really good." Antonio will be lined up as a MIKE linebacker so there's a chance for all three to be on the field at the same time.
The Big 33 is an honor for Antonio and he's excited about being able to represent his state, but it's also an excellent opportunity for him to prepare for better competition at the next level. "I think this will help me get better, help me to go up against better competition and get myself prepared to make an impact once I get [to Michigan]," said Poole.
The preparation and competition is only one aspect of how he's getting himself ready to compete at Michigan. The biggest change for Poole was probably his new workout program he received once he signed his LOI. "When I first got the exercise book I didn't even know how to do some of them, so it was kind of hard," he said. "The running stuff I knew how to do that, and I think I've built up a lot of stamina from the workouts. I've gotten a lot faster and I'm up to 220 pounds now." The coaches will probably have him play around 225 as a freshman so he's almost at his ideal weight.
The Big 33 game has some great tradition behind it, and has seen some outstanding players in their past years. Both are aspects of Michigan that Antonio is recognizing by comparison. "This game is going to be on TV so it's a big stage. After this I'm just excited to get on the field and play in the Big House, even bigger stage. I want to bring the winning back to Michigan and the tradition back to what it was," said Poole. As a versatile linebacker that can play either WILL or MIKE, Poole will have every opportunity to compete for a starting spot to help Michigan back to prominence.
The Big 33 will be played on Saturday June 18th at 7:00pm EST. More information on the game can be found here.